This is a concept gaining support and advocacy throughout the country. It promotes safe communities, conservation of public funds and holding offenders accountable but still providing tools for law-abiding lives. The PD advocates public policies that minimize the lock-up of children and mentally ill. It calls for greater use of Civil Citation and problem solving programs like Drug Court, Veterans Treatment Court and Girl’s Court which provide rehabilitation instead of expensive incarceration. Specialty Courts are a proven means of reducing recidivism.
Public Defense of a criminally-accused indigent person is not entirely free. State of Florida Statute 27.52 (linked) imposes a $50 fee for individuals filing with a Clerk of the Court, an indigency application that may result in a Court appointment of a Public Defender. Additional, nominal fees are also due upon completion of a criminal case, several variables are considered. Failure to pay does not affect one’s ability to receive zealous legal representation from a Public Defender; however, a Court may impose liens to recover any overdue costs.
In the Fourth Judicial Circuit, these statutory fees are noticed in Public Defender offices and in all client communications with Assistant Public Defenders. The Clerks of the Court (Clay, Duval and Nassau Counties) process all payments, and in Duval County the Clerk has established a remote payment option inside the Public Defender Office.
Resource Recovery is an important practice to ensure tax payers are not unfairly or unnecessarily billed in full for a public service that by statute they have been relieved. Clients of the PD who are able to pay these nominal, administrative costs will be required to do so. Proceeds go to State of Florida Trust Funds designed to offset General Revenue funds within State Constitutional offices.
Problem Solving Courts
Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Treatment Court, Girls Court and Chronic Homeless Offenders Program or CHOP are among the growing practices helping offenders and conserving tax dollars in Northeast Florida. Problem Solving Courts are based on the widely accepted fact that rehabilitation minimizes instances of recidivism. National statistics have shown that an offender who successfully completes a Problem Solving Court rehabilitation program has a less than 10% likelihood that he/she will offend again. However, an individual who is incarcerated for an offense is 40% more likely to become arrested once he/she is out of prison.
From a fiscal perspective, rehabilitation is far more cost-effective than incarceration. To incarcerate an individual for a year, the cost to taxpayers is in the neighborhood of $40,000. However, when an individual completes a Problem Solving Court rehabilitation program, the annual cost is one-tenth of that, or $4000 on average.
It is important to note, Problem Solving Courts are reserved for non-violent offenders facing addiction and other problems. The approach is to rehabilitate the individual by fixing the problem. This is a more cost effective solution that conserves public funds and often preserves a life.
In 2014, the Public Defender determined that too often, young people in Jacksonville lose positive, future opportunities because of a juvenile indiscretion that casts them into the criminal justice system. Recognizing a practice that relates to children, the Public Defender drafted and moved for adoption, a City Council Resolution encouraging greater use by law enforcement of the Civil Citation. Statistics show that similar-sized jurisdictions around Florida and the nation have more regularly opted for the issuance of a Civil Citation – a diversion for first-time misdemeanor offenders that provides the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency.
Following two months of public debate and discussion, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously passed Resolution 2014-177-A. The measure cites 2011 Florida Statute 985.12 that encourages greater use of the Civil Citation. Diverting first-time misdemeanants through this means will save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent if youth were arrested and required to go through formal delinquency processing.
Pro Bono Opportunities
This is a cost-saving program established by the Public Defender in 2009 in coordination with the Jacksonville Bar Association One Program. Pro Bono Opportunities provides free criminal law training for private practitioners who want to satisfy pro bono service requirements, diversify their practice or simply help a less fortunate person. Upon completion of the training, participants become Special Assistant Public Defenders (SAPD’s) and receive a misdemeanor case assignment.
Communication and Technology
Advancements in communication and technology have enabled modern offices to become significantly more efficient over the last two decades. The Public Defender has faced a decreasing state budget due to a weak U.S. economy. Inspired by new, available technologies, we have dramatically overhauled the office infrastructure to allow attorneys and staff to work more efficiently. We have invested in video conferencing systems to allow secure, real-time, face to face meetings between attorneys and their jailed clients. We have also guided the development of a unique, file-less case management system that became a feature story in IBM Systems magazine. Dozens of technological and communications advancements have come to the Office of the Public Defender.